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Stoicism. Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Russell McNeil, PhD. Malaspina Great Books Lecture Series. Malaspina Great Books 2006. Epictetus (c. 55 – c. 135 CE).
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Stoicism Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Russell McNeil, PhD Malaspina Great Books Lecture Series Malaspina Great Books 2006
Epictetus (c. 55 – c. 135 CE) Do not seek to have events happen as you want them to, but instead want them to happen as they do happen, and your life will go well.
The Philosophy of Epictetus True education lies in learning to wish things to be as they actually are; … But there is only one thing which is fully our own -- that is, our will or purpose… we must ever bear in mind -- that apart from the will there is nothing either good or bad, and that we must not try to anticipate or direct events, but merely accept them with intelligence…In the world the true position of man is that of member of a great system, which comprehends God and men …All men are the sons of God, and kindred in nature with the divinity. For man, though a member in the system of the world, has also within him a principle which can guide and understand the movement of all the members; he can enter into the method of divine administration, and thus can learn -- and it is the acme of his learning -- the will of God, which is the will of nature…Each man has within him a guardian spirit, a god within him, who never sleeps; so that even in darkness and solitude we are never alone, because God is within, our guardian spirit. The body which accompanies us is not strictly speaking ours; it is a poor dead thing, which belongs to the things outside us. But by reason we are the masters of those ideas and appearances which present themselves from without; we can combine them, and systematize, and can set up in ourselves an order of ideas corresponding with the order of nature.
The natural instinct of animated life, to which man also is originally subject, is self-preservation and self-interest. But men are so ordered and constituted that the individual cannot secure his own interests unless he contribute to the common welfare. We are bound up by the law of nature with the whole fabric of the world. The aim of the philosopher therefore is to reach the position of a mind which embraces the whole world in its view -- to grow into the mind of God and to make the will of nature our own. Such a sage agrees in his thought with God; he no longer blames either God or man; he fails of nothing which he purposes and falls in with no misfortune unprepared; he indulges in neither anger nor envy nor jealousy; he is leaving manhood for godhead, and in his dead body his thoughts are concerned about his fellowship with God.
Stoic Physics • Non-atomic cosmos • World is a dynamic continuum • No void • Cosmos is filled with substratum called pneuma • We connect to pneuma through respiration • Force (binding agent) called “string”, “thread” or “web”
Stoic God Part of Nature Physics Determinists Logos (active) interdependent with material (passive) Men as Gods Jewish God External to nature Metaphysics Non-determinist Logos identified with Christ (the Word) God above men Stoic vs. Judeo-Christian God
Principle Ideas Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things which exist. Aurelius
And as the universe is made up out of all bodies to be such a body as it is, so out of all existing causes necessity (destiny) is made up to be such a cause as it is. And even those who are completely ignorant understand what I mean, for they say, It (necessity, destiny) brought this to such a person.
Whatever of the things which are not within thy power thou shalt suppose to be good for thee or evil, it must of necessity be that, if such a bad thing befall thee or the loss of such a good thing, thou wilt blame the gods, and hate men too, those who are the cause of the misfortune or the loss, or those who are suspected of being likely to be the cause; and indeed we do much injustice, because we make a difference between these things.
Knowledge of nature is useful , but as a means. Nature is not something you can shape to suit your purpose, but something you use to shape your lives by living in accord with nature's principles.
Reverence the faculty which produces opinion. On this faculty it entirely depends whether there shall exist in thy ruling part any opinion inconsistent with nature and the constitution of the rational animal. And this faculty promises freedom from hasty judgment, and friendship towards men, and obedience to the gods.
But death certainly, and life, honour and dishonour, pain and pleasure, all these things equally happen to good men and bad, being things which make us neither better nor worse. Therefore they are neither good nor evil.
Death is such as generation is, a mystery of nature; a composition out of the same elements, and a decomposition into the same; and altogether not a thing of which any man should be ashamed, for it is not contrary to the nature of a reasonable animal, and not contrary to the reason of our constitution.
Do not despise death, but be well content with it, since this too is one of those things which nature wills.
To avoid unhappiness, frustration, and disappointment, we need to do two things: First, control the judgments, desires and attitudes which shape the soul. These things are in our power. Second, ignore those things outside our power (the body, bad opinion, the past, possessions).
Now it is in my power to let no badness be in this soul, nor desire nor any perturbation at all; but looking at all things I see what is their nature, and I use each according to its value.- Remember this power which thou hast from nature.
Will then this which has happened prevent thee from being just, magnanimous, temperate, prudent, secure against inconsiderate opinions and falsehood; will it prevent thee from having modesty, freedom, and everything else, by the presence of which man's nature obtains all that is its own?
Constantly observe who those are whose approbation thou wishest to have, and what ruling principles they possess. For then thou wilt neither blame those who offend involuntarily, nor wilt thou want their approbation, if thou lookest to the sources of their opinions and appetites.
Meditaton It is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquillity; and I affirm that tranquillity is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself; and let thy principles be brief and fundamental, which, as soon as thou shalt recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to send thee back free from all discontent with the things to which thou returnest.
This one thing, thoughts just, and acts social, and words which never lie, and a disposition which gladly accepts all that happens, as necessary, as usual, as flowing from a principle and source of the same kind.
Stoicism and Christianity • Moral Virtue • Providence • Sin
Trust the future to providence, and direct the present only conformably to piety and justice.
Either there is a fatal necessity and invincible order, or a kind Providence, or a confusion without a purpose and without a director (Book IV). If then there is an invincible necessity, why dost thou resist? But if there is a Providence which allows itself to be propitiated, make thyself worthy of the help of the divinity.
Redemption Suppose that thou hast detached thyself from the natural unity - for thou wast made by nature a part, but now thou hast cut thyself off - yet here there is this beautiful provision, that it is in thy power again to unite thyself. God has allowed this to no other part, after it has been separated and cut asunder, to come together again.